Place: Siostra (Polish for 'sister') is the perfect neighbourhood bistro newly opened in Auckland's Grey Lynn. Currently open for lunch and dinner during the week, and for brunch on weekends.
People: Hospitality power sisters Beki and Esther Lamb, previously owners of Ponsonby favourites Sunday Painters and Stella. Beki directs the kitchen and Esther front-of-house - the dynamic is perfect and generates a warmth that's usually found around a friend's kitchen table, not a restaurant.
Decor: Pared back yet homely. The layout is similar to the restaurant's predecessor, Delicious, but with artful additions, like a cobwebby grey and white artwork by John Reynolds which spans the length of one dining room wall. The odd vintage lamp, china plate and mossy hanging basket break up a palette of greys and blacks, contributing to the familial mis en scene.
On the menu: After noticing how heaving the restaurant was in the evenings the week previous, we chanced it for a weekend brunch - it was much quieter. There's a changing breakfast menu of just one or two breakfast items to choose from each weekend. It was refreshing to be restricted and as there were two of us we got to try both dishes, negating all food envy.
I had the Corned Beef Schnitzel Benedict, which was served on a beautifully cooked bed of asparagus. My friend had Mushrooms on Toast - the best he's ever had. Cooked with masala and cream and served on thick sourdough bread, each mouthful was rich and complex, the earthiness of the variety of mushroom types simply celebrated. This weekend's special is Salmon Pastrami on buckwheat waffles with horseradish labneh - it's so exciting to be able to try something new each weekend.
For lunch and dinner, the menu is split into casually titled "Now", "Soon", "Charcuterie" and "Later". This means you can linger over a long and casual dinner, starting with Octopus and Chorizo skewers, Crispy Pickled Okra or Oysters, moving on to Fish Crudo, Citrus and Poppy Seeds, Lentils and Guanciale or Baked Mussels. If you've room, move on to House Smoked Lamb's Tongue Rillettes or Crab and Smoked Cheese Stuffed Jalapeno with Buttermilk Slaw. Everything on the menu is classic but distinctive, with some unusual ingredients and flavour combinations reminding you that you are indeed in a restaurant not a flat.
In the glass: A blackboard urges you to "Try These Wines!" which is great, as the list itself is gloriously comprehensive. The daily curated blackboard is short and sweet, once more providing something we think we don't want but we really do - restriction of choice.
Go tomorrow: For the most relaxed, interesting and enjoyable eating experience a neighbourhood restaurant can provide. Go for brunch if you're bored of routine Eggs Bennie, and for lunch that turns into dinner that turns into cocktails at the bar if you're in the mood for fine food without fuss.
Open: Tuesday - Friday, 12pm - late. Weekends 9am - late.
Address: 472 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn, Auckland.